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One of the most popular places to visit in Jiangsu province is the ancient city of Suzhou (苏州 – sū zhōu). Renowned for its classical gardens and its abundance of canals, the famous explorer Marco Polo once dubbed this the “Venice of the Orient.” Let’s see what you can do with a short trip to Suzhou.
The highlight of a visit to Suzhou is exploring the city’s many classical gardens. Built between the 11th-19th centuries, the gardens here are regarded as masterpieces of ancient Chinese garden design.
A group of nine Suzhou gardens were given UNESCO World Heritage Status, described as “the most vivid specimens of the culture expressed in landscape garden design” from the region. You won’t be able to visit them all on a short trip, but some of the most famous include the Lingering Garden (留园 – liú yuán) and the Master of the Nets Garden (网师园 – wǎng shī yuán).
Learn more about the gardens in this short video from UNESCO:
The city is also home to many temples and pagodas. Visit the Yuan Dynasty-era West Garden Temple (西园寺 – xī yuán sì), which blends garden art and temple art harmoniously. As the largest temple in the city, there’s a lot to see here.
Another beautiful place to visit is the North Temple Pagoda (北寺塔 – běi sì tǎ). Head to the top of the 9-story tower to take in the views of the city.
As is the case with many cities in China, tradition clashes with development and modernity here in Suzhou. Here you’ll see ancient structures in the foreground and cranes in the distance as new high-rise apartments spring up.
No visit to Suzhou would be complete without some fun on the water. The city is famed for its large canal system, which you can explore on a boat ride. Alternatively, you can pay a few kuai to get inside a bubble and roll around on the water.
The city has long been known for its silk (丝 – sī) industry. Back in imperial times, the royal families of China got their silk from Suzhou. You can learn all about it at the Silk Museum, or you can go to a shop where you might catch a demonstration or even a fashion show.
Thanks to high-speed trains, you can reach Suzhou in just 25 minutes from Shanghai. As such, it’s easy enough to just do a day trip here on your own if you don’t feel like staying the night. Learn from my mistake and don’t sign up for an organized tour out of Shanghai. Sure it’s convenient – they take you to gardens and temples so you don’t have to figure out how to get around on your own. However, as with any tour in China you’re also dragged to forced shopping stops which last far too long. Bored out of our minds, we went out and picked up a bottle of baijiu and cigars to kill time. Doing the trip on your own will not only be cheaper, but it will be far more interesting and free of tourist traps. You can easily visit Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou in a couple of days on your own. Just make sure your Chinese is up to par!